On West Union Street in Athens sits an empty storefront that once served as a haven for vinyl collectors. The former shop, Haffa’s Records, closed in late September after nearly two decades of patronage. However, the region finds hope in the success of Chillicothe’s Apollo Records, owned by former Haffa’s regular Jesse Mitten.
Apollo Records celebrated its second year of business last November. Though opening a record store in a small town, or anywhere, is a risky feat, Apollo Records has grown since it first opened.
“We’ve had to reorganize the store two or three times already just because we keep getting more and more stuff in,” Mitten says. “Just being in an area where there’s no record shop around, I get people coming in from like an hour or two away. That really helps.”
Inside the downtown record shop, bins filled with records, from soundtracks to classic rock, line the walls. “We don’t really focus on just one thing because we get people liking any kind of music here,” Mitten says. Although it is midday on a Monday, a few regular customers drop in to sift through the records and other pieces of merchandise. Mitten carries on a friendly banter with them while the radio plays classic punk-rock songs in the background.
Although Mitten continues to find success, he has had to learn the trade like any other new store owner. “It’s a learn-as-you-go thing—learning your market and learning the buying habits of people,” Mitten says. Mitten credits former Haffa’s owner Andrew Lampela as a mentor. “Haffa’s was a big part of what got me into this,” Mitten says.
While the success of Apollo Records is encouraging, changes in the music industry cannot go ignored. Record sales in the U.S. have increased by 12.8 million since 1993, yet more people still stream music online or purchase CDs. Studies show that CD sales have fallen by 119.2 million since 2011, but in 2016, there were 104.8 million CDs compared to 13.1 million records sold.
One aspect that streaming and compact discs do not have on the vinyl sound, however, is the passion that so many people feel for it.
Chris Pyle, a former Haffa’s customer, wholeheartedly agrees. “I can’t stand just having something with MP3s because the quality is not nearly as good, and there’s just something really romantic and fun about records,” Pyle says.
Apparently, records are not always savored for their sound. According to a recent study by The Telegraph, only 50 percent of the records purchased today are actually being spun. Many people buy them for their collectability or just to display on their shelves.
What is missing from online music shopping is the personal touch that comes with places like Haffa’s or Apollo Records. Mitten and Pyle both mentioned the possibility of opening another record store in the region, recognizing that Southeast Ohio music fans cherish the one-on-one experience. “I love that community and its people,” Pyle says. “You can’t find that on the internet.”